Collaboration Chain: Continuing Education and Community Collaboration

By Kristi Pereira

I love collaborating. I love being in a room of colleagues and fellow community members, discussing projects and plans, and exploring ways in which we can work together to achieve a common goal. And I especially love this if that common goal is something that has the potential to create an improved quality of life in our beloved Waco. There is very little that is as satisfying to me professionally as when individuals come together to create something meaningful that benefits our community as a whole.

I have had the privilege of working for and with several non-profits within our community, and I now serve as the Coordinator of Community Programs in McLennan Community College’s Continuing Education Department. Over the past several years, I have enjoyed a great deal of partnering, networking, and you guessed it….collaborating. The projects and plans that I have witnessed come together the most successfully can be attributed to each person’s commitment to diligently working together in order to see the task through to the end. I am incredibly grateful to work in a position where I get to witness this very thing on nearly a daily basis. Our Continuing Education mission statement specifically states that we are “deeply committed to the advancement and enrichment of Waco and McLennan County through our collaborations to offer the best learning experiences possible.” We accomplish this in a number of ways, and like links in a chain, we cannot optimally function without every piece coming together.

It starts with our students. Our community has supported our mission to provide lifelong learning for more than 50 years! This long-term dedication has allowed our programs to grow and flourish, all while bringing people together from all walks of life to learn new skills and hobbies. From the children who attend Kids College, to the adults who prioritize lifelong learning, we would not exist without each student’s desire to expand their knowledge through our courses.

Furthermore, we would not function without our incredible team of instructors. Our instructors plan, prepare, and execute courses that meet a wide variety of needs within our community. They come to us excited to share their knowledge and experiences, and we are grateful for their influence. Even during my short time at MCC, I have heard stories of individuals gaining skills that helped them land their dream job, or others turning what was initially a hobby into a thriving career.

Another important link in the collaboration chain are our community partners. In recent years we have established partnerships with a number of local businesses and organization who have helped us expand and promote our course offerings. These partners have opened the doors of their businesses to help us reach an even broader audience, as well as provide new and unique learning opportunities to members of the Waco community.

I am proud to work for an institution that encourages partnership, and also to live in a city that embraces interconnection. We like to say in the Continuing Education Department that “Life is Good in Waco” (we print this very phrase on all of our publications!) And it is true! And life will continue to be good in Waco every time we choose to link together, creating an unbreakable chain of community collaboration.

Here’s the link to see what MCC Continuing Education has to offer:

Kristi Pereira is the Coordinator of Community Programs at McLennan Community College, through the Continuing Education Department. Originally from the Pineywoods of East Texas, she has called Waco home for almost 12 years. Kristi enjoys all things fitness and nutrition, reading, volunteering, and a good cup of coffee. She has been married to her husband Hermann, for almost 15 years, and they have two kids, Hudson and Ruby. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

What’s in a name?

“’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague….
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet….”

Juliet was saying that a family name, or a group identity, is less important than the qualities of an individual. However, in Juliet’s speech and the rest of the famous “balcony scene,” Shakespeare reveals both Romeo and Juliet to be naïve and blinded by love. In fact, names mean a lot, as the young lovers would soon learn.

What does the name “Shakespeare” mean to you? His name gets used like a “brand” to mean someone who’s good with words, the way someone who’s smart in science gets called “Einstein.”

I’ve loved Shakespeare since I was a little girl. I grew up in Atlanta, and my dad used to take me to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival every summer, where we’d see three different Shakespeare plays in two days. Because I was young, and often didn’t understand everything that was being said by the adults around me, it didn’t bother me that I didn’t understand everything that was being said on the stage. When his stories were being performed by actors who knew what they were doing, his fancy words were a bonus, not a barrier.  

Does Shakespeare have anything to say to us today in Waco? Some friends and I think so. I’m a theatre director and, since I moved to Waco nearly three years ago, I’ve gotten to know many people in the theatre community. Two in particular, Stefanie Wheat-Johnson and Trent Sutton, have similar interests and aspirations to mine, and we decided to collaborate on three “Shakespeare Studio” productions. These will bring together the best scenes, speeches, and sonnets from Shakespeare’s work around a particular theme. Our first, Love and War, will be performed July 16-18, and will feature a dozen talented actors ranging from high school students to community theatre regulars to professional actors. Our second Shakespeare Studio production will be Music, Magic…and Murder at Halloween, followed by Law and Order in the spring. Then…a full-length Shakespeare-in-the-Park production next summer!

Our arts organization is called “InSite.” What does that name mean? It’s a play on the word “insight,” which we believe happens when we thoughtfully engage with the arts. It’s also a play on the word “site,” or location. Since we don’t have a theatre building, we’ll be doing the plays “in sites” around Waco. Love and War will be presented at Brotherwell Tap Room in East Waco, which is much more like the places where Shakespeare’s plays would have originally been presented than the dark, quiet theatres of today.

Our name also refers to the fact that InSite is a “creative placemaking” initiative. The practice of creative placemaking is based in the belief that the arts and creativity are necessary to the identity and thriving of a community. When we gather around stories, events, and works of art that are meaningful to us, we help make Waco a great place to live, work, and visit!

In addition to Shakespeare, we have more fun and interesting performances planned! Learn more about InSite and the Shakespeare Studios, buy tickets, and join our email list at; and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Luann Purcell Jennings (writer), Trent Sutton, and Stefanie Wheat-Johnson have, among them, more than 50 years of experience in directing, teaching, community building, Christian ministry, organizational startup, and more. They are creative, motivated, and determined to see Waco impacted by the ways that art can transform this beautiful city.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

Voices for our Community’s Children: CASA Advocacy As A Retired Community Member

By Mike Mellina

(This post is part of a series of posts about CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates.  For the rest of this series, click here: CASA-2019. – ABT)

Welcome to the third post in our CASA blog series, which provides a close up look at our advocacy from a CASA volunteer’s perspective.  

Today, we have the pleasure of hearing from a tenured CASA volunteer, Mike Mellina, who includes CASA in his various volunteer activities as he seeks to give back to his Waco community.

Mike has been a Court Appointed Special Advocate for six years and is currently appointed to two cases simultaneously, which are the third and fourth cases he has had.  Though most advocates are assigned to just one case at a time, Mike is a rock star who has taken on two. Each of his cases have happened to only have one child per case, so he has been an advocate for four children so far.

Before he became an advocate, Mike had no knowledge of CASA, but he saw a billboard or an ad in passing.  Then shortly after, he headed to his church, First United Methodist Church Waco, and found a little CASA bookmark clipped to his church name tag with information about becoming a CASA volunteer.   He decided to call and learn more, then decided to give it a shot and, as Mike says, “it snowballed from there.”

Mike has been retired for almost nine years and enjoys spending his time giving back to our community.  He says volunteering is a good way to fill his time and the fact that he did have time to give helped him take the leap and get involved with CASA. 

As mentioned above, Mike didn’t know much about CASA when he jumped in.  He went through the training process along with a small group of other advocates, and heard from different CASA staff as well as current advocates during the training, which provided him a good view of the advocacy work involved.  The training helped him realize this is not your average volunteer opportunity and that there is a lot involved with advocating for children in foster care.   He was able to form a realistic view of what his volunteer role would look like.  “All the CASA staff have been super supportive”, Mike said of his time as a volunteer.  “I’ve never felt like I’ve been on my own.”  He has been involved beyond his casework, such as with continuing education that CASA provides to advocates, and really enjoys helping with public awareness efforts or events that CASA engages in, like a CASA booth at Waco Wonderland or the annual Crawfish for CASA fundraiser event.  “I’m willing to pitch in however I’m needed,” Mike said with a smile.

Mike has a bit of advice for anyone considering becoming a CASA.  “Be patient and give yourself time, don’t make quick judgments.  I like defined goals and no ambiguity and CASA is a lot of ambiguity.  If you’re volunteering to pick up trash, you pick it up and put it in the bag.  With CASA, there are so many variables.  I had no idea how any of this foster care stuff works, and it takes a while to learn all that. Don’t be hard on yourself.  The training is good. Rely on the staff support.”  He added that even with the learning curve, it is a very doable and rewarding volunteer experience.

When asked what he has enjoyed most about his time as a CASA volunteer, Mike said “Seeing positive results for children.  Seeing a kid that you may have had doubts about their chances in life and seeing, to your surprise, the outcome turned out better than you thought it could’ve been for them when you first met them and met their situation.  If nobody jumps in, then maybe nothing positive would have happened.”

Mike saw this first hand with one of his CASA cases.  When he first met the child involved in the case and learned the circumstances, he thought “this kid doesn’t have a chance”.  But in the end, in part because of Mike’s advocacy, he was reunited with family in a safe environment.  After the case had closed, Mike reconnected with him and they have kept in contact since, though without any CASA involvement.  The child was 14 when the case began and is now about to turn 20, has a great job, is about to get his own apartment.   Mike sees him every week and helped him complete his GED. Not only is he doing great personally, but he also chooses to give back to the community and serve in a volunteer role, much like the example Mike has set for him, and he hopes to be able to share his story with other youth in foster care. 

To learn more about CASA of McLennan County and the need for more advocates, visit our website at or find us on social media @casamclennan. 

If you have questions or are ready to begin advocating for children in foster care, email our CASA Recruiter, Kate Gilbert, at

Mike Mellina is a retired Wacoan who built his entire career of 38 years at Southwestern Bell, which was purchased by AT&T.  He has lived almost his whole life in Texas, except for 2 months as a baby in California.  Mike began his career in Houston but transferred his job and moved to Waco in 1983, to be closer to his Dad who operated a ranch in nearby Groesbeck.  Mike and his wife, Kate, raised their three kids here, who are now all grown.  Mike and Kate have seven grandkids and another one on the way.   Aside from his advocacy with CASA, Mike is highly involved in his church, First United Methodist Church Waco. He also gives back to our community as a Reading Buddy in Waco ISD schools and is part of the youth prison ministry out of FUMC.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.